Caretaker Minister of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants, Charbel Wehbe, confirmed, after his meeting with US Undersecretary for Political Affairs, David Hale, that “Lebanon is still in the circle of the United States’ interest.”
In a chat with journalists, Wehbe said: “We have listened to the US administration’s approach to the international and regional files and the extent of the difference between the administration of former President Donald Trump and that of current President Joe Biden, the latter seeming closer to our vision as to finding a solution for the Middle East.”
He denied “Hale having carried any political message to him during their meeting,” stressing that “Lebanon is still a concern of the United States, and its stability remains one of its goals,” and quoting Hale as describing the Lebanese Army as “a friendly army in whose competencies and achievements we trust.”
He also stressed the continuation of cooperation between the LAF and the UNIFIL in order to maintain stability in the South and secure the implementation of Resolution 1701, underlining the need to form a Lebanese government to revive the economy and put it on the path to recovery.
Discussing the border demarcation and in response to a question about the Hof Line, Wehbe said: “It is a compromise solution that the US administration proposed back in 2012 and we did not yield to it. We said at the time that our line is 23. Today, Army experts say that the 29th must be adopted.”
Asked whether or not he had notice in Hale an enthusiasm over the resumption of negotiations, he replied: “I told him that Lebanon wishes [to do so] and calls on the United States to continue playing the role of mediator.”
“Since the beginning, my position as Minister of Foreign Affairs was in favor of amending Line 23 to Line 29, and I still insist on it. As for how to do introduce this amendment, I have no constitutional powers therein, but I have addressed the Ministry of Justice and directed legal questions to the Legislation and Consultation Commission.”
Asked whether “the position of the Presidency was a gift to Hale prior to his arrival, in an attempt to calm the Americans,” the minister said: “I do not see the President of the Republic presenting gifts to anyone against the interest of the country, rather on the contrary.”
Wehbe also denied “any American push to Europe to impose sanctions,” and said, “We talked about the United States’ interpretation of the Caesar Act sanctions imposed on the Syrian Arab Republic. In this context, Hale said: We understand that there are no sanctions imposed on Lebanon, according to the Caesar Act, and that the food and industrial supplies that cross the Syrian territories are not subject to sanctions.”
Pertaining to the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the northern borders issue with Syria, he said: “In 2011, Lebanon drew its maritime borders on its own, and deposited them in the United Nations. As for Syria, it did not. And when Lebanon began oil blocks contracting, Syria uttered its objections as to the Lebanese-Syrian maritime borders, noting that no negotiations had taken place to demarcate the lines between the two countries. That was back in 2014. In 2017, however, they [Syrian authorities] informed us of their [concerns], and we did assure them that our borders’ maps are deposited in the United Nations, and stressed that we were ready to negotiate with the Syrian authorities, state to state, by virtue of the fraternal relations, the neighborhood and the friendship we share. The borders would thus be demarcated according to international law.”
He went on to explain: “In May 2019, the Syrian embassy addressed a letter to the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs asking whether Lebanon accepts the formation of a committee to negotiate the demarcation of the border, and we responded with acceptance on the same day. However, we did not hear back, until the matter was raised in the media.”
In response to a question about whether he sensed any breakthrough in the internal situation through Hale’s diplomatic meetings, Wehbe said: “I do not see that diplomatic communication with foreign countries helps with a rapprochement at home. All the Lebanese support the formation of a government, (…) the solution is in our hands. (…) Foreigners cannot prevent politicians in Lebanon from forming a government even if it does not satisfy them.”
It is noteworthy that Wehbe will leave tomorrow for Greece to participate in the tripartite annual meeting with his Greek and Cypriot counterparts to discuss common issues, including security and stability in the eastern Mediterranean, and cooperation between the three countries in the field of exchanging security information and monitoring immigrants, in addition to economic concerns.